The Hawkeyes will go for another 12-0 season in 2016
The biggest blemish, to many, on the Iowa Hawkeyes perfect season in 2015 was that their schedule wasn’t as difficult as some members in other conferences, or even if they were in the Big Ten East. While you play whose on your schedule, TeamRankings had Iowa with the 51st toughest schedule in the nation last season, ranking them around the rest of the Big Ten West. It’s telling how a weaker Big Ten West had many people not taking Iowa as seriously.
Wisconsin wasn’t the same powerhouse they usually are, Northwestern was good, however Iowa blew them out, and without Justin Jackson they didn’t have a ton going for them on offense. Even Nebraska is going through a couple of tough seasons trying to find their way back to the glory days. With all that paired with the fact that Iowa avoided the three-headed monster out East, the argument against their weak schedule is warranted.
Still, you play whose on your schedule and if they went 13-0 they should have made the College Football Playoff. This season the Hawkeyes schedule isn’t as easy, but it still works in their favor for another run at a double-digit win regular season.
To start off the season, the Hawkeyes have three easy non-conference games. Miami (OH) was one of the worst teams in the MAC last season and is projected to finish near the bottom, once again, this season.
While Iowa State could give the Hawkeyes problems, considering its their rival, the Cyclones will be traveling to Iowa City. After a game in which the Hawkeyes were barely able to squeak out a victory, playing at home could give them the extra boost they need to make sure it doesn’t take them until the final minutes to pull away.
To end their non-conference schedule they arguably get their toughest opponent – North Dakota State. The Bison are coming off five consecutive FCS championships, but the loss of Carson Wentz to the draft could be devastating for them. Quarterback Easton Stick went 8-0 when Wentz went down last season, and the Bison should be one of the top FCS teams, again, but, Stick has never faced a defense like Iowa. Besides, even the top FCS programs usually have problems hanging with Power Five Schools at the caliber of Iowa.
While Iowa’s first four Big Ten games are all winnable, two games stick out – Northwestern and Minnesota. The Wildcats own one of the best running backs in the nation in Justin Jackson. He carried the ball an amazing 312 times last season, and has been that type of workhorse back since high school. Despite Iowa’s run defense being above-average last season, Jackson’s agility and speed could cause problems for them.
Not to mention with Minnesota the following week. The Golden Gophers return one of the most starters in the Big Ten after dropping 35 points on Iowa last season – the most they allowed in the regular season. Even though the game is in Minneapolis, this is a very winnable game for the Hawkeyes as Minnesota isn’t viewed as a competitor in the Big Ten this season.
Having those two games back-to-back will be the Hawkeyes first test, however, after watching Iowa tear Northwestern apart last season, winning 40-10, the level of fear heading into those two weeks significantly decreases.
Following their game with Purdue, the schedule starts to get interesting and is when many think Iowa will trip up at least once. With Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan their next three match-ups, it’s their toughest three-game stretch of the season. If they were to somehow escape with three victories, another 12-0 season wouldn’t be out of question.
Despite this being the toughest stretch on their schedule, it couldn’t have been scheduled better. The Wisconsin game comes a week after Purdue, who should be a cake walk. Not to mention that Iowa will host them this season, after barely squeaking out of Madison with a 10-6 victory. Even if the Badgers aren’t playing at the same-level we’ve been use to seeing them over the past 10 years, they always put up a fight. With Wisconsin hungry for revenge, playing at home knowing they have a bye week next will be huge for the Hawkeyes.
Penn State and Michigan are the two best teams on their schedule, with little debate to it. That makes the scheduling of the bye week even that much more important for Iowa. It gives them an extra week to rest and watch film on Penn State as winning in Happy Valley is never an easy task. While that game is far from a guaranteed win, the extra week of rest will do wonders for the Hawkeyes.
The biggest concern on the schedule isn’t just that Michigan is on it, rather Iowa hosts them a week after Penn State. Wins over Penn State and/or Wisconsin would be huge confidence boosters for a team who might not be tested up to this point. Although, a loss to both could leave them a little rattled heading into their match-up with Michigan. While it’s a somewhat risky three-game stretch that could spiral out of control later in the season, it also does come with big rewards if Iowa were to win out.
Playing under the lights in two of these three games, with the Wisconsin game not owning a time yet, should just add more hype and anticipation to the games. Plus, their game versus Michigan will be nationally televised at home. There isn’t a much better way to pull off a potential upset than at night in front of your home crowd.
With Iowa finishing off at Illinois and at home against Nebraska, they’d hopefully enter a potential Big Ten Championship game without much competition in the final two weeks.
When it comes down to it, many will still be unhappy with the Hawkeyes schedule. Sure, they only drew one of the three-headed monsters out East , but it comes after a game against a very good Penn State team. Besides, the top teams in the West are far from bottom-dwellers.
Even with a tougher schedule, there’s a reason many project Iowa to finish atop the division once again. Sure, they bring back a boatload of talent, but their schedule also allows them to go on another historic run. They don’t face many challenges at the beginning, and their toughest stretch couldn’t be set up more perfectly.
There will always be people complaining about the Big Ten because they’re not the beloved SEC, but you play whose on your schedule and try to win, and that’s what Iowa does.